The family returned to the ranch, the boys reluctantly changing out of their suits and into play clothes. Chris, Buck and Matt changed as well, going out to tend the horses.
Gloria had taken the rest of the week off, so Claire offered to make dinner. Changing out of her suit, she went to the kitchen and began working. She found herself humming as she worked, shocked at how happy and content she felt. She watched out the kitchen window, enjoying the sight of the two little boys running around the back yard. From time to time the shadow of a third child crossed her inner vision, bringing with it the sting of tears. As much as she had finally come to accept the two orphans as part of her son's life, the pain of loss still consumed much of her heart. She intended to try and keep that pain from infecting the week of celebration, but knew that she could only ignore it so much herself.
Dinner was soon served, the family sitting down to a light dinner of salmon, salad and rolls. The mood was still one of excitement, the boys giggling over nearly anything while the adults indulged them in their silliness. Afterwards they reluctantly took their baths and got ready for bed, even though they had the entire week off from school. Chris and Buck let them stay up and watch a movie, then carried the sleeping children to bed a short time later.
Coming back into the great room, Chris found his parents sitting together and talking softly. He cleared his throat to make his presence known, nodding when they both looked up at him. "Well, the boys are tucked in and so is Buck."
With a chuckle, Matt said, "I thought a few times there we'd be putting him to bed, too."
"He's about like JD, two speeds," Chris replied with a grin.
Yawning, the elder Larabee said, "Well, I'm about ready to call it a night myself. Since your mother and I will be riding herd over those two little fireballs tomorrow I think I want a good night's rest."
"Sleep well," the younger man replied as his father left the room. Turning to where his mother still sat, he continued, "I really do appreciate you and Dad taking care of the boys tomorrow so Gloria can go out of town for the holiday."
Managing a smile, Claire said, "It's no problem, really."
Perching on the edge of the couch, Chris studied his mother for a moment. He sensed that she was still not completely at peace with the situation, although he didn't find any animosity when he looked in her face. He had to admit, at least to himself, that he missed the closeness they had once shared.
Growing uncomfortable with her son's observation, Claire turned to regard him. "You're wearing holes in me," she scolded.
With a wry grin, the blond said, "Sorry. It's just well, I've missed you."
"I've missed my son, too," Claire said guardedly. "I've missed him for some time, now."
Heaving a sigh, Larabee dropped his head. Softly he said, "Mom, I wish I could erase the things I've said and done in the past. You and Dad didn't deserve the things I put you through."
"No, we didn't," Claire responded evenly. "Your father, especially."
Chris nodded, looking down at the floor. "I won't try to excuse my behavior, there's no excuse for it. But - "
His mother reached out and laid a hand on his slumped shoulder. "Neither one of us has much to be proud of from that time, son. There are things I'd like to take back including the things I said and thought when we first got here."
Chris frowned. "I know you overheard Vin the other night but what did change your mind about all this?"
"Vin," She said simply. "I realized that he doesn't deserve to be involved in what's between the two of us, just as your father didn't deserve to be in the middle before."
"You know, people always did say you and I are a lot alike. Too stubborn for our own good."
With a smile, Claire said, "I guess they were right, huh?"
They were quiet for a few moments, the silence tense with things still unsaid. Finally Claire gathered up her courage and spoke. "Chris, I can't say that I've completely forgiven you just as I wouldn't expect you to forgive me. But I do hope that for now we can keep the others - especially your father and your son - out of it. And I hope that with time, we can make our peace."
Chris nodded. "That's all I've ever wanted, Mom."
The next morning the two little boys were up before their fathers left for work, settling in the great room to watch the Cartoon Network after breakfast. The excitement of the last few days seemed to have caught up with them, neither boy seemed ill, just in need of some peace and quiet.
Matt left about mid-morning to go over to the Cochranes' for a visit, leaving Claire with the two boys. She puttered around the kitchen, beginning some preparations for the pies she had insisted on baking for tomorrow's Thanksgiving dinner. Ezra Standish was hosting this year's feast since Chris and Buck were planning a big celebration on Saturday in honor of the adoptions. He also wanted to show off his new home. Although the smooth talking Southerner proclaimed everything 'under control' she was not about to arrive there empty handed.
Leaving the homemade pies to bake, Claire decided to see what the boys were up to. They had been quiet for almost an hour and, although she hadn't been around little ones for some time, she knew that wasn't a good sign. Finding them, she knocked softly at the open doorway, peering into the boy's bedroom. Vin and JD sat at the little table, working on something. The floor around them was littered with crumpled papers and, as she watched, the older child added another to the growing pile with a growl.
"Oh my, it looks as if you boys are having a bit of trouble with something," the older woman said gently as she entered the room.
With a peeved expression, Vin said, "We been tryin' ta make somethin' special for our uncles an' it just ain't workin'."
"Yeah, we wanted to make it on th' 'puter, but we can't figure out how to use the program," JD added. "Us'lly Unca' Ezra helps us, but if we ask him "
"The surprise would be ruined for him?" Claire guessed.
"Yeah." Both boys sighed.
"Well, I'm probably not nearly as good at this sort of thing as your uncle Ezra, but I'd be glad to help you if you'd like."
The boys grinned and Vin added, "Thank you, Ma'am!"
They left the boys' bedroom and went to the den, where Chris had his home office set up. Claire settled into the desk chair with one child on each side of her. With their guidance she pulled up the graphics program they pointed out and, following their directions, she began to design the 'surprise' they wanted to give the members of their extended family.
Ezra checked over the arrangement of his dining room once more, fussing at the smallest thing that he deemed out of order. He had called the cleaning company he used from time to time and a team of housekeepers had spent the past three days going over his entire home with the proverbial fine-toothed comb. They had also decorated for him, the living room, kitchen and dining room dressed in autumn colors and sporting dried flowers, pumpkins, squash and cornucopias.
The entire house was also filled with the smells of Thanksgiving. The scents of roasting meat and warming spices wafted through the rooms. He smiled. His friends and especially his young nephews would be quite surprised to find that he could be quite domestic.
He just hoped he had gotten rid of all the boxes bearing the name of the catering company he had used. At least he could take the bows for the turkey. He had spent a great deal of time and effort in preparing the bird he had surprised the boys with a couple of weeks ago. The green-eyed man chuckled to himself as Buck's description of his nephews finding the wrapped and frozen turkey in their 'turkey trap' came to mind.
A knock at his front door caught the undercover agent's attention. With a frown he moved toward the foyer, wondering who had the bad taste to be more than two hours early. Reaching the entryway he peered out, his jaw dropping when he registered the identity of his visitors. Hurriedly opening the door, he croaked, "Mother?"
"Hello, Darlin'!" Maude Standish-LaMarr chirped happily, a broad smile on her face.
"I hope we didn't come at a bad time, son," Peter LaMarr, Ezra's current and, he hoped, final stepfather added.
Finally managing to find his voice, Standish said, "What? No! No, it's a most wonderful time, actually." He stepped back, ushering his family into the house. Closing the door behind them, he said, "I'm hosting a dinner party later today, for Thanksgiving."
"A dinner party? Oh, how wonderful!" Maude called over her shoulder as she swept through the living room.
"Are you sure we won't be imposing?" Peter asked. "I know we probably should have called ahead, but you know your mother. She thought it would be a lark to just pop in on her 'baby boy' and surprise him."
Ezra chuckled. "Yes, that sounds like Mother. No, Peter, I assure you, there will be more than enough food and room for you both. Can you stay a while?"
Grinning at his stepson, LaMarr said, "Well, we did bring overnight bags, just in case. They're in the car. And since we brought the jet, we're free to come and go as we please."
Clasping his hand on the older man's arm, Ezra said, "Wonderful! Come on, then, let's go see where Maude's gotten off to. I'll show you both around my new home."
Chris and Buck couldn't help but be a little surprised when their sons insisted on riding to Ezra's with Chris' parents. The children had been up at dawn, worrying and fretting that they wouldn't get to their uncle's on time. It didn't matter that they were told several times that the dinner party wasn't until 3:00. They had burned off some of their energy playing in the yard throughout the morning, reluctantly coming back inside when called. Claire fixed a light brunch around 11 and afterwards the boys were convinced to rest a little while they watched a video. The tape had scarcely begun to play before soft snores could be heard from where Vin and JD lay with their pups, on the floor.
Getting ready to go see their uncle was something of a battle when both boys argued for wearing their new suits. Their fathers were finally able to convince them that the slacks and sweaters they had laid out would look just as nice and be more comfortable. Finally they were on their way out the door, each one of them carrying a homemade pie.
Hopefully no one would notice the thumbprint in the one that JD carried.
Chris drove along the highway, having to smile when he kept noticing how empty the truck felt with nothing but half a dozen pies in the backseat. They were safely tucked away in boxes, the cab filled with the fragrance of pumpkin spices and baked pecans.
"Feels weird, doesn't it?" Buck asked.
"Not having the boys with us?" When his friend nodded, Chris said, "Yeah, it does. Think they've talked Mom and Dad's ears off yet?"
"Probably well on the way," Buck responded. Then, after a pause, he asked, "How are things with you and Claire?"
Shrugging, Larabee said softly, "We're not there yet."
"But, closer than you were last week?"
One corner of his mouth quirking up, the blond said, "Yeah, closer than we were last week. Amazing what a little time with Vin can do to a person."
"Yep," Wilmington grinned, once again silently grateful for the return of the old friend he had missed for so long. "He's something else."
"He is that," Chris agreed as a father's proud smile spread across his handsome face. Glancing over at the big man, he said, "We've both got a lot to be grateful for this year."
His own smile lighting up his face, Buck nodded. "We sure do, Stud. We sure do."
Behind the truck, in the rental car, Vin and JD were filling the air with childish chatter. For once, Vin was holding his own, his voice often competing with his younger friend's.
"Gran'pa Matt?" the little blond called.
"Yes, Grandson Vin?" Matt teased.
With a giggle, the seven-year-old said, "Did you know that there was nay-dive 'mericans at the first Thanksgiving?"
"There were?" their grandfather feigned ignorance.
"Yeah, there was, an' they helped th' pilgrims learn how to make food in 'merica."
"Wow, that's pretty neat."
"We watched a movie 'bout it in school last week. It was cool."
"We gotted to make handprint turkeys in arts an' crafts, too," JD added. "I used lots of colors to make the feathers..." then he cried out, "OH NO!"
Nearly slamming on the brakes, the elder Larabee yelped, "What's wrong?"
"We didn't get th' turkey outta the freezer for Thanksgiving!"
Vin rolled his eyes, let out a breath, then saw his Grandfather wink. Hiding his grin, he said, "Well, reckon we'll just have ta eat turkey-cicles, then. Do they taste good, Gran'pa Matt?"
"Oh yes, I love turkey-cicles. There's nothing like a turkeyleg-cicle. Dip it in some gravy... mmm-mmm!"
"Ew!" JD protested. "No way! We gotta go get a new turkey a cooked one!"
Stifling a laugh, Claire came to his rescue. "Don't worry, sweetheart, it's fine. Ezra came and got the turkey Monday so he could cook it."
Slumping back in his seat with a pout as Matt and Vin chuckled, JD said, "That ain't funny."
Ezra found himself growing more and more excited as 3:00 approached. He had shown his mother and stepfather around his new place, taking pride in the fact that both of them approved of how he had decorated it. There was a slight glitch when Maude hadn't been able to understand how he could not only keep, but have cleaned, the large bronze tortoise statue in the backyard. Peter had understood though, and that brought the older man up yet another notch in Ezra's estimation.
Nearly jumping at the knock on his front door, Standish hurried into the foyer. Swinging the door open, he said, "Welcome and Happy Thanksgiving!"
With a grin, Josiah replied, "Happy Thanksgiving to you, too. Here, I couldn't come empty handed." He handed over a large platter of empanadas.
Returning the grin, the smaller man said, "I'm sure they're excellent," as he led the way back through the house.
A few minutes later, he was back at the door, ushering Nathan and Raine past his threshold. The beautiful woman handed over a large casserole dish. "It's corn pudding, we couldn't come empty handed."
"Thank you, my dear, I'm sure it's wonderful," Ezra replied with a golden grin as he escorted his guest into the house.
Just as Standish deposited the casserole dish on the sideboard, another knock at the door brought him out of the kitchen. He motioned for the others to sit, selfishly wanting to personally greet all of his guests. He was smiling broadly as he opened the door and found Buck, Chris, his parents, and the boys standing on the porch.
"Unca Ezra!" JD and Vin crowed together. "Happy Thanksgiving!"
Laughing, the auburn haired man called back "Happy Thanksgiving, my little nephews!"
Giggling, the boys threw themselves at the man, hugging him fiercely. Standish leaned down and hugged them back, enjoying the feel of little arms wrapped around him. Smiling at the other adults as he straightened up, he said, "Welcome and Happy Thanksgiving to you all, too."
Laughter and a chorus of "Happy Thanksgiving" echoed across the porch. Then Chris and Buck held up pie-laden boxes.
"We couldn't come empty handed," Chris explained.
A short time later, the group was gathered in the living room. Ezra had insisted on showing everyone around the house, pride filling his voice as his friends praised his decorating sense. While the boys showed little interest in most of the tour, two things caught their attention. One was the bedroom that Ezra had furnished just for his nephews. The second was the recently refurbished 'Torkus' in the backyard.
Now they were settled together in the living room, enjoying the fire in the fireplace and chatting amiably while they tried Josiah's empanadas, snacked on the vegetable trays sitting on the coffee table, and drank warmed cider. Peter, Maude, Matt and Claire all seemed to hit it off, and anyone watching the little scenario would have been surprised that not all of those gathered there had known one another before.
Another knock sounded at the door, the conversation coming to a halt as they tried to figure out who was missing. Ezra smiled as he eased himself to his feet. "I asked the Andersons to join us for a few moments," he explained. "They were instrumental in my deciding to move in here, and they've all been wonderful in helping me settle in."
A moment later the Andersons entered the room right behind Ezra. The handsome southerner said, "Everyone, I'd like you to meet the Reverend Joe Anderson, his wife, Marge, and their son, Noah. Noah was wonderful in helping me out when that reprehensible realtor abandoned us."
The Andersons were greeted warmly, everyone introducing themselves to the newcomers. Vin and JD corralled Noah and talked him into going to see their 'new room' while the adults were offered cider and invited to enjoy the appetizers.
"You're joining us for dinner, aren't you?" Maude asked.
"I'm afraid we can't," Marge replied with a smile. "We have to be at my Mother's at 5:00."
"It sure does smell tempting, though," Joe added. With a broad wink, he said, "Marge's mother always overcooks the turkey."
Jabbing her husband in the ribs, Marge scolded him. "Now who is it that always eats turkey until it comes out his ears, then falls asleep in a chair and snores so loud in the family room that no one can hear the football game?"
"Oh, that would be your brother," Joe teased. "You really should speak to him about that, my dear."
Shaking her head, the preacher's wife said, "That does it, this time I get out the tape recorder."
The others around them were immediately taken by the warm and friendly family. They were all soon chatting like old friends, hardly able to believe how quickly the time passed. Soon Ezra's neighbors said their good-byes, Noah promising to come visit Vin and JD the next time they were at their Uncle's.
Coming back into the house after seeing his neighbors off, Ezra returned to the living room. Pausing at the doorway, he sighed at the sight of all his friends gathered together. To think, he had nearly given this all up.
They were all gathered at the dining room table, laughing at the tight squeeze as all twelve of them sat down together. The boys were surprised to find that they now had booster seats at Uncle Ezra's as they were lifted onto the chairs and pushed up to the table.
"Before we eat, I'd like to ask you all to join hands while I offer a prayer of thanksgiving," Josiah's deep voice boomed across the noisy room.
Claire found herself between Matt and Vin. Taking the little hand in hers, she couldn't help but gently rub her thumb over the tiny knuckles. Glancing beside her, she saw the big blue eyes looking at her and nearly gasped as she read the emotions there. As tears filled her eyes, she smiled at the child and lifted his little hand to her cheek.
On the other side of his son, Chris watched the exchange and smiled. No one could resist his son for long. Especially when he turned on the Big Eyes.
Josiah spoke for several moments, offering up a prayer to a variety of deities for the things that had happened over the course of the year. As he finished, he said, "Now, as is a tradition in many families, I thought perhaps we could take a moment to reflect on what we might be particularly thankful today."
Matt Larabee spoke up first. "I'd like to start if I may. I'm thankful for the fact that my family has grown so large over the past few months. Not only have I added a second son and two grandsons to my life but I feel as if each and every one of you at this table is part of my family now."
Raine, sitting beside Matt said, "I'm very thankful for the fact that I have a very wonderful and loving husband. And because of him, I have a very large family as well. Including two of the cutest little nephews a woman could ask for."
Nathan's deep voice caught everyone's attention next. "Well, if I don't say I've got the world's most wonderful and loving wife, I'm gonna be sleeping on the couch tonight." Pausing for the laughter that rang out, he smiled and leaned over to kiss his wife and watch the glare she had leveled on him disappear. "Seriously, I am thankful for this lady. And I've got to say that I'm thankful for my family here, too."
"I'm thankful that we've all found one another and that we've been able to forge the strong bonds of friendship and brotherhood. Not only that, but we've been blessed by the presence of two wonderfully loving children this year. Two little boys who have given us back the innocence of childhood and the wisdom of youth." Josiah's rich baritone filled the room once more.
At the head of the table, Ezra paused to take in the faces of those around him. "I have to say that I am most thankful for the return of my health. Not only my physical health for which you were all so instrumental in assisting me in regaining. But also my mental and emotional health in realizing that only in facing my fears could I conquer them. I am thankful that I was given shelter and love by my beloved mother and her wonderful and gracious husband. I must say that I wish them a long and happy marriage. And finally, I am thankful that my extended family welcomed me home."
Dabbing her eyes with a tissue, Maude said, "Darlin' Boy, you know that you always have a place with us. But I believe that you're right. This is your home."
There was a general murmur of agreement and the two boys smiled across the table at their uncle. When things had grown quiet once more, Ezra's mother continued. "I am most grateful for my Son this year; grateful that he's with us, whole and well. And I am grateful for my wonderful husband, Peter, who has given me more than I can say during our first months together."
Peter, on Maude's other side, leaned over and kissed his wife on the cheek. Then he said, "I'm thankful that I had the good fortune of marrying this beautiful woman beside me. She has brought more joy into my life than I ever thought possible. I'm thankful for the opportunity to get to know my stepson who is a man I feel deep and abiding love and respect for."
Ezra couldn't stop the grin from spreading across his face even as tears traced a path down his face. Pride filled his being at the man's words; a father's love was something he had known little of through his lifetime.
Buck was next. "I reckon it's no surprise to anyone that I'm most thankful for this little guy beside me and the little guy across the table from me. I had never understood quite what was missing from my life until they came into it. And I can think of no greater gift than the fact that they're always going to be in my life. And, at the risk of embarrassin' him, I've got to say that I am very thankful that those same two little boys have given my oldest and dearest friend back a part of his soul." He listened to the murmurs of those around him while he locked eyes with his friend. He smiled as Chris smiled and nodded in agreement.
"I'm next!" JD announced, bringing laughter to the room. "I gots lots to be thankful for. I'm thankful for my toys an' my bedroom an' my dog an' my horse an' Torkus an' all the good food we gots to eat now. Except brocc'li an' livers. Sorry Unca' Nathan." He smiled as the adults chuckled and Nathan gave him a wink. "I'm thankful 'cause the Judge said me an' Da is 'ficial now, even if he was already my Da. An' I'm thankful 'cause we lives with Chris'fer an' he's my second dad. An' I'm thankful 'cause me an' Vin is brothers, 'cause he's my bestest friend in the whoooooooooooooole world. An I'm thankful 'cause we gots Unca' Ezra back an' we gots Unca' 'Siah an' Unca' Nathan an' Aunt Raine. An' I'm thankful that Gran'pa Matt said he can be my Gran'pa and he also said that Da can be his son. An' I'm thankful that I gots friends at school an' we gots nice teachers even if they wanted me to take more tests. An' I'm thankful that we gots Mrs. Potter to take care of us an' I'm thankful that Miz Nettie helped us be 'dopted."
The entire table was filled with smiling people who indulged the five-year-old. Then they watched as he stopped, frowning slightly. As if everyone realized at once what he was waiting for, they all called out, "Breathe, Little Bit, breathe!"
A smile splitting his little face, the little brunet crowed, "I am breathin!"
Chris was next, the blond waiting until the laughter had died down. Shaking his head, he said, "Not sure how I can follow that. As Buck said, I'm most thankful for these two little boys. They've given me back a part of my life that I thought I'd buried all those years ago. I'm thankful for the joy that they give me every day and I'm thankful for the love we're all able to share. I'm also thankful that we're now officially a family, even though in our hearts we were family a long time ago. I'm thankful that I have the opportunity to share all the ups and downs of fatherhood with my oldest friend. I'm also thankful that I have a lot of good friends who I can count on, even when I'm well, not being the nicest person to be around. And finally, I'm thankful that my parents are back in my life, and that we have the opportunity to work through well, lets just say the past."
Realizing that his father was finished, Vin felt that funny feeling he got any time he had to speak in front of adults. Then he felt Chris' hand on his back and his Dad leaned over and whispered in his ear.
"It's just family, Cowboy, it's okay."
With a shy smile, the seven-year-old said, "I'm thankful for most 'a the stuff JD already said. 'Specially I'm thankful that we're 'dopted now. I don't know how to say it real good, just that now I has safe feelin's 'cause I know that I got a fam'ly that's gonna take care of me. And I'm real thankful that Gran'pa Matt an' Dad's mama came to visit." With that he bowed his head, trying to hide the blush that spread across his little face.
Claire reached out and brushed a hand tenderly through the loose, blond curls. She spoke to the gathering but her eyes were trained on the little boy beside her. Quietly she said, "I wasn't certain that I had anything to be thankful for when I arrived here. How very wrong I was. I'm very, very thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this wonderful family of friends. I'm thankful for the chance to get to know my Son again or I should say Sons, since Buck is now considered our Son as well. Although to be honest he's been like our Son for many years now. And I am very thankful for the chance to get to know my Grandsons." She paused as a pair of blue eyes and a pair of hazel stared right into her heart. Giving them both a smile, she said, "and I would be very honored if my grandsons would consider calling me Grandma Claire."
The boys smiled back at her and, while Vin nodded vigorously, JD piped up with, "Okay, Gran'ma Claire!"
On Friday Chris and Buck started preparations for the next day's celebration. Claire insisted on helping with the cooking, while Matt took the boys out for a ride. The day was cold but clear so they bundled up and rode out on Pony, Peso and Milagro.
The boys showed him their favorite places, and they settled in a sun-warmed field for lunch. The dogs had joined them and Matt enjoyed watching the boys scampering around the field with the excited animals after a lunch of sandwiches and warm cocoa. He slipped a camera from his coat pocket, taking pictures of his two grandchildren, smiling and chuckling at the boys' antics.
They returned home shortly before sundown, two tired boys trying their best to help care for their mounts and bed them down for the night. They stumbled into the house on either side of their grandfather, greeting their fathers with sleepy but contented smiles.
While Chris and Buck coaxed the boys into a warm tub and then into their pajamas, Matt helped Claire put the finishing touches on dinner and set the table. The family enjoyed a dinner of chicken and dumplings, mixed vegetables and rolls, the boys barely able to eat between wide yawns. On either side of them, the adults had to smile as they watched the little ones fight the lure of sleep.
Finishing, the two fathers carried their sons into the great room and settled in front of the television. The boys protested that it was far too early to go to sleep, but soft snores sounded in stereo before the opening credits of Ice Age finished playing. Rag doll limp bodies were carried into the bedroom and tucked in beneath warm comforters.
The day had been a busy one for all of them and the adults climbed into bed soon afterwards. Saturday was going to be another busy day in an incredibly hectic and emotion-packed week; it had taken its toll on everyone.
Vin how come you always sigh when I say hi to the computer?
???? Never mind, JD.
Okay. Anyway, we almost forgot to talk to you this week, cause it's been really, really busy. We got adopted officially on Tuesday so I'm now officially Da's son and he's officially my Da. And Christopher is now officially Vin's dad and Vin is officially Christopher's son.
???? JD you didn't hardly leave anything for me to say!
Oh! Sorry. Do you want to go back and erase part of it?
???? No, that's okay. How long are you going to call Dad Christopher?
I don't know. It's his name isn't it?
Yeah, but everyone just calls him Chris.
His Mama doesn't. Remember? She called him Christopher.
Yeah, but I think Grandma Claire was mad at Dad when she called him that.
Are you sure? Vin? Vin, the computer can't see it when you shrug.
I know it's just that I don't know if she was mad at him or not. And I thought maybe she was mad at me, too.
But she doesn't act mad, now.
No, she acts good.
Yeah. I'm glad she asked us if we wanted to call her Grandma Claire.
Me, too. Do you think she's not mad any more?
Maybe. I hope so.
In here, Grandpa Matt!
There you are. I wanted to see if you two were interested in going out for breakfast?
In a restaurant?
???? Yes, in a restaurant.
Yeah, cool! Bye, computer!
How come you sighed, Vin?
???? Never mind JD, come on. Don't forget to turn off the computer.
Chris and Buck watched their sons take in the transformed great room with happy smiles. Claire and Matt had taken them out for breakfast and then to the opening of the Christmas exhibit at the museum, returning just before noon. During that time the two men had decorated for the adoption party.
"Dad? Did you 'n Buck do all this?" Vin asked as he took in the room.
"Yep, we did. Do you like it?"
Nodding, the little blond studied the huge banner hanging at the far side of the big room. "We are Fam-i-ly." With a giggle, he grinned up at his father.
Chris scooped him up and gave him a hug. He pointed out the other decorations; pictures of the four of them printed out on the computer, glued to poster board and suspended on ribbons from the ceiling. Crepe paper criss-crossed the room, stars dangling from them with more pictures of JD and Vin glued to them.
"You an' Chris did a real good job," JD praised as his father lifted him onto his shoulders for a better look. "You really s'prised me an' Vin."
"We did, huh?" Buck asked as he all but danced around the room with his son.
"Okay, we heated up some tomato soup and made grilled cheese for lunch. The party starts at 2:00, so we've got time to eat and get cleaned up and changed before folks start coming in," Chris informed the others.
As they made their way into the kitchen Vin asked, "Can me an' JD wear our suits for the party?"
"Hm, well you'd look really nice but you'd have to be really careful. And what if you spilled punch on the jacket or shirt?" Chris reasoned.
"Yeah, plus you can't play in them, and there might be other kids here," Buck added just as both boys sighed heavily.
Everyone was ready and waiting by 1:45, sitting in the great room together and watching a few minutes of Scooby Doo to pass the time. To compromise in not wearing the suits, the boys were allowed to choose their own outfits for the party without argument. Vin was dressed in a deep purple Henley and blue jeans with rainbow striped suspenders. JD was dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and white jeans with a brightly colored newsboy's cap.
None of them were surprised to see that the rest of their family was the first to arrive. Ezra arrived with his mother and Peter while Josiah came with Raine and Nathan. The boys and their fathers greeted them from the front porch, the boys' mouths dropping open when they realized that everyone was carrying gifts.
"Da? Is somebody havin' a birthday?" JD asked.
With a chuckle the big brunet said, "sort of I guess. This is the birth of our family in some ways." He grimaced as his friend gave him an amused look.
"Awful deep for you, pard," Chris teased.
The guests arrived in a steady stream and before long the great room, dining room, den and kitchen all rang with the sounds of the happy gathering. The boys tried their best not to, but found their eyes drifting time and again toward the sideboard, where presents were stacking up.
The family greeted their guests, who included not only their family, but their neighbors, including Cochranes, the Petersons, and elderly Mrs. Cooper. Gloria Potter and her two teenagers, David and Katie, arrived as well, having just gotten back home that morning. The housekeeper was grinning from ear to ear as she hugged each boy and congratulated them all on the adoption. Thanking her, Chris and Buck both reminded her that she was a guest today, and not supposed to do any housekeeping chores.
Carolyn Roquette, Jim Biedler, and Lottie Salvatino as well as some of the teaching assistants were there from school. Dr. Jake Two Eagles and Dr. Will Lowery arrived together to congratulate the family on the adoptions finalization.
Ken Torres and his family entered the house, Beth and the children immediately going to congratulate their friends. Ken looked slightly hesitant when he came into the large gathering, but that quickly disappeared when Ezra greeted him and handed him a glass of punch.
The boys smiled when they saw Ms. Nettie arrive at the party. It took them a moment to realize that the woman with her was Judge LaFleur. They moved to greet the two women.
"Hi Miz Nettie, hi Judge, ma'am," JD chirped.
"We're real glad you could come to our 'doption party," Vin added.
"We wouldn't miss this for the world," Nettie replied with a smile.
"Definitely. This is a wonderful party," Judge LaFleur added.
Everyone mingled around for an hour, enjoying the buffet and drinking punch. The children had their own buffet that was set up on the boys' table and included things that the little ones would enjoy. Raine Jackson helped Beth Torres with her three-year-old and infant daughters, the two women laughing as they entertained the babies.
Chris and Buck had enlisted the aid of a friend to create slideshow videos of their family. They were set to soft music that was turned down low, the special presentations showing on both the big screen TV and the computer in the den.
Vin and JD did their best to be good hosts, but sometimes it was difficult to remember that when there was so much happening. They found themselves often the center of attention as the grown ups congratulated them on the adoption. As usual the little brunet glowed as the center of attention, but Vin was uncharacteristically giggly and cheerful as he shared the spotlight with his little brother.
With some gentle hints, the family moved to the stack of gifts and began to open them. Everything had a family theme to it. There were DVDs and books, CDs and gift certificates for local family events. The foursome remarked on the thoughtfulness and thanked the gift givers enthusiastically.
After the gifts were all opened, the party continued on. After a short time had passed, two of the party-goers moved to stand before the fireplace.
"Can I have your attention please?" Nettie Wells voice rang out, bringing the social chatter to a halt. All eyes on her, the older woman continued. "Most of you here may know the lady beside me, but not recognize her without her robe and gavel. This is Judge Deana La Fleur, who presided over the hearing that culminated in this party the adoption of Vin and JD. When we were invited to attend today, the Judge and I quickly knew that there was a special gift that we needed to bring the family. So if the four of you would come over here?"
Chris and Buck reached down and lifted up the little boys who had come to stand beside them. Together they approached the two women, looks of curiosity mirrored on each face.
Judge La Fleur was holding a set of impressive looking folders. She smiled at the family group as she spoke to the gathering. "Most of us know that the wheels of bureaucracy can move very, very slowly. However, sometimes they can be greased so that they move more smoothly. Nettie and I were able to do that this week, in order to expedite these "
Vin and JD frowned at the woman, trying to figure out just what she was saying. She used bigger words than Uncle Ezra did.
Opening the top folder, the woman read, "This document is written proof that John Daniel Dunne, a.k.a. JD, is hereby the legally adopted son of one Buck Wilmington "
JD looked from the Judge to his Da as Buck gasped. Fear shot through him but was quickly dispersed when he saw the look of happiness that crossed the man's face. "Da?"
Squeezing his little boy as he reached out and accepted the certificate of adoption Buck explained, "It's our official papers, Li'l Bit. It says we're father and son forever and always."
"Oh," the little brunet frowned, trying to figure out what why everyone was suddenly clapping and cheering. They had been adopted Tuesday, and that was three whole days ago.
When the rest of the gathering became quiet once more, the Judge continued. Opening up the second folder, she read, "And this document is written proof that Vincent Michael Tanner, a.k.a. Vin, is hereby the legally adopted son of one Chris Larabee "
Vin wasn't certain he could breathe, his heart was beating faster and faster. Huge, bright blue eyes stared at his father, begging this to be what he hoped it was.
Reading the emotions in the little boy's face, Chris said gently, "It's our certificate, Cowboy; it's completely for real now."
The little blond wrapped his arms around his father's neck a contented sigh followed by a relieved giggle as his Dad accepted the folder from the Judge. He felt the man hug him close and felt a tremble run through the strong body. "Dad?"
Kissing the top of the little head, Chris whispered, "It's okay, Pard, I just had a really big feeling."
Vin understood that, he was feeling a lot of very big feelings, too.
The happy gathering all but exploded with cheers of celebration. The foursome was surrounded as people congratulated them once more. As Claire moved through the gathering, Vin motioned to her. When she approached, he leaned away from his father and whispered to her, "Can we give our sertif-cats now, too?"
Nodding, Claire said, "I think that's a very good idea."
Motioning to JD, Vin asked his Dad to let him down. Both boys took their Grandmother's hands and hurried from the room. The celebration continued behind them and everyone was still talking and laughing when they came back into the room. They climbed up onto the raised hearth of the fireplace, accepting the folders that Claire carried.
"Excuse us," Vin called out.
"'Scuse us!" JD called out even louder.
David Potter, standing nearby, heard the little boys and realized quickly they were trying to get everyone's attention. Sitting down his glass of punch, he pressed his fingers to his lips and whistled loudly. When all eyes turned to him and the talking ceased, he simply smiled and pointed to the children who stood waiting impatiently.
Finding themselves once more the center of attention, the boys smiled, then Vin spoke up. "We got some sertif-cats that we wanna give, too. Me an' JD was thinkin' 'bout this for a long time. Ever since Dad an' Buck 'cided 'bout bein' um our other dad."
"Second parents," Chris supplied from where he stood nearby.
"Yeah, second parents," Vin said. "Anyway, me an' JD started thinkin' an' we 'cided that we wanted to make some other peoples 'ficial parts of our fam'ly."
"Viiiiiiiiiii-iiiiiiiiiiiin," JD whined. "You're takin' too long!"
Heaving a sigh, the older boy turned a baby glare toward his younger brother. "You talk way more'n I do!"
"Boys," Buck said warningly.
Blushing, the boys said in unison, "Sorry."
Recovering his composure, JD took up the explanation. "Our Gran'ma Claire helped us so we could make special sir-fif sir-kif "
"Certificates?" Chris supplied.
Nodding his head vigorously, the little brunet said, "Yeah, them!"
"So, anyway, we made sirtif-cats an' we wanna give 'em out," Vin finished the explanation. "When we tell who it is, can you come get your sirtif-cats?"
"Gran'ma Claire, can you help me?" JD asked. While the older woman held the folder, he pulled out a laminated paper. Grinning, he said, "Unca' 'Siah!"
Rolling his eyes, Vin said, "JD, yer s'posed to read the whole thing."
"Oh, yeah. This is to surf-eye cer-ti-fy that Josiah Sanchez is our o-fficial uncle because he always tells us really good stories an' teaches us good lessons."
Josiah, tears glistening in his deep blue eyes, came forward and accepted his certificate, then hugged each boy. He stepped back then, allowing the impromptu ceremony to continue.
Vin motioned to his Grandpa and whispered, "Can you help me, Gran'pa Matt?"
"I'd love to," Matt whispered back.
Grinning, the little blond handed over the folders and then withdrew a second certificate. Grinning, he said, "This sertif-cat is for Unca' Nathan. It says " he paused, paling as he realized that he was going to have to read in front of this group of people.
Matt sat down on the hearth and put an arm around the tiny little waist as he leaned in to whisper into the bashful child's ear. He felt the child slowly relax, and Vin began to repeat his words.
"This is to certify that Nathan Jackson is our official uncle because he always makes sure that we do everything we can to stay healthy. He fixes our owwies, and makes sure we eat good food."
Nathan came forward and accepted his certificate, his dark brown eyes also awash in tears. He leaned down and hugged each boy, making sure to praise the older one for the good job in getting through the reading of the certificate. He went to stand beside Josiah, the two of them comparing their surprise gifts.
"Me next, again," JD announced. Opening the second folder, he grinned and held up the certificate. "Aunt Raine! This is to cer'fy that Raine Jackson is our
o-fficial aunt because she always helps us out when we need it an' she is real good at doin' lady stuff like makin' costumes."
Raine let her tears flow freely as she stepped up to accept her homemade certificate. Both boys received a hug and a kiss on the cheek before she moved over and was embraced by her husband.
"We gots one more," JD announced before looking over at his older brother.
Opening up the folder, Vin glanced at his grandfather before taking on the lengthy text. "This is to certify that Ezra Standish is our o-fficial uncle because he is always good to us and helps us with home homework and takes care of us and he came back to live with us because he is part of our family and he buys us 'spensive stuff even though he gets in trouble and he doesn't have to because he loves us and that is enough."
"But we do like the toys he buys us!" JD chimed in as their uncle approached and the gathering exploded in heartfelt laughter.
Like Raine, Ezra didn't attempt to fight his tears. He came forward and accepted the certificate, lifting each of the boys in turn to hug them close and whisper his thanks in their ears. He stepped away, leaving both boys grinning proudly as he moved to stand with the other three recipients of the 'family certificates'. Once more applause broke out, cheers ringing out for the entire family.
JD frowned and looked over to where Judge LaFleur stood. "Judge, ma'am?" he called out.
Smiling at the smaller boy, Deanne came nearer. "What can I do for you, Dear?"
"Do we gots to have you make our cer'ficates 'ficial?"
Finding herself suddenly set upon by the Big Eyes from two different directions, Deanna couldn't help but be touched by the two little charmers. Sincerely she said, "No, my dears, I believe that they're as official as they need to be."
It was well after sundown before the party broke up, the boys' now 'official' uncles and aunt the last to leave after helping to clean up. They all remarked on the impressive certificates Claire had made under the boys' direction. Each certificate was personalized with a picture of the boys with that uncle or aunt.
Before they left for home, Chris and Buck made their own presentations. Each of their uncles and their aunt were given copies of the slideshow as keepsakes.
Finally, only the little family remained. Claire and Matt were relaxing on the couch, their sons and grandsons settled in their recliners. The boys were ready for bed but unable to relax enough to truly go to sleep yet. They were sprawled in their fathers' laps, fidgeting and yawning.
"What time does your plane leave?" Chris asked his parents.
"Six a.m.," Matt responded. "We'll leave here about midnight; the wait to board's supposed to be pretty long."
Looking at the clock and seeing that it was ten p.m. now, Larabee sighed. "I wish you could stay longer both of you."
"Me too, son. Who knows, maybe your mother and I will be coming out more often now." He turned toward his wife, waiting to see her response.
Nodding, Chris' mother said, "I think we will."
Smiling, Larabee said, "I'd like that."
Chris slammed the trunk of the rental car and turned toward his father. "Are you sure you're okay to drive? It's been a long day - "
"And I'm no spring chicken?" Matt teased.
With a chuckle, the younger Larabee said, "I didn't say that, but you do have a forty-something kid, you know."
"Which is hard to do when you're only thirty-nine," Matt quipped. Then he said, "I'm fine. I figure I can sleep all the way home, so I just have to get us to the airport."
"Well, call me when you get there, and when you get home, okay?"
Sighing, Matt said, "Yes Dad."
The two Larabee men went back inside, finding Buck and JD sprawled out and snoring in one of the recliners, the afghan thrown over them both. Then they both paused as they found Claire and Vin sitting together in the rocker. The little boy was wrapped up in a blanket, holding Cat and fighting sleep with all his worth.
Claire looked up, finding herself the object of attention. With a smile, she nodded toward the fussing child. "He doesn't want to go to sleep."
"I wanna say bye t' Gran'ma Claire an' Gran'pa Matt," Vin said between yawns.
Coming over and leaning over the seated pair, Matt reached out and brushed back the rumpled blond hair. "Well, we're going to be leaving in about five minutes, Cowboy."
Tears sprang into the half-closed eyes and the seven-year-old said in a trembling voice, "I don't wan'cha t' go."
Leaning down and planting a kiss on the child's forehead, Claire said softly, "We'll be back, sweetheart."
Eyes drifting closed, Vin murmured, "Promith?"
Tears filling her eyes, Grandma Claire replied, "Yes, dear, we promise."
Chris stood beside the car as his parents prepared to leave. "Sorry you're not getting a bigger sendoff," he said with a shake of his head.
Laughing, Matt said, "I guess they just couldn't keep up with us."
"Sure you don't want me to drive you into town?"
Shaking his head, the older man said, "No, we'll be fine. You've still got another day with those boys, you're gonna need your rest."
Chris joined his father in a laugh. Then, turning toward his mother, he said, "I want to thank you for for letting my son sons into your heart."
"Thank you for giving me the opportunity to get to know them," Claire responded. She leaned forward and kissed her son on the cheek. He kissed her back before she stepped back. Stroking a hand over the cheek she had just kissed, she said, "And I have to say that I'm thankful for those two boys. I believe they found the son I thought I'd lost."
The younger man smiled and nodded. He knew that they still had issues to work through but, for the first time in a long time, he felt hopeful that they would, indeed, work them out.
A few minutes later, Chris was standing on the porch, watching the rental car's taillights slowly fade out of sight. With a sigh he wiped away a tear before turning toward the house. His Dad was right tomorrow was another day with two very active and amazing little boys.
Next up - Ball Games by KT
Index - Puzzling Out Life's Little Lessons
Want to put this week's puzzle together? Click here.
Link to the Adoption Coloring Book mentioned in the story: Click here.